What are examples of nationalism in WWI?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As others have noted, nationalism was a major cause of World I. Nationalism, a powerful force in the nineteenth century, was rooted in two dominant intellectual movements that were otherwise often at odds: the Enlightenment and Romanticism. The central Enlightenment urge to classify all things, including people, into groups, led...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

As others have noted, nationalism was a major cause of World I. Nationalism, a powerful force in the nineteenth century, was rooted in two dominant intellectual movements that were otherwise often at odds: the Enlightenment and Romanticism. The central Enlightenment urge to classify all things, including people, into groups, led to the rise of the concept of people grouped not by the boundaries of their nation state, but by shared language, culture, and ethnicity. Romanticism, with its focus on the common man and the exotic, shone a light on the customs of far-flung ethnic people and cast their struggles for freedom in an exalted, very positive light, fueling their movement.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, Balkan nationalism was a significant force. In order to take advantage of the weakness of the fading Ottoman Empire, Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegroall part of The Austro-Hungarian Empireformed the Balkan League in 1912 to fight the Ottomans. This led to a rise in Pan-Slavic pride and an increased hunger among these nations, especially Serbia, for independence from the oppressive Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Nationalist stirrings during the war caused problems for superpowers like England, who were feeling enormous economic strain to finance a costly struggle and did not have the time, energy, or resources to get involved in suppressing rebellions in their own territories. The Irish rose up during the war, eventually achieving independence shortly after the war's end. India also threatened to rise up, but was bought off with what proved to be false promises of being helped to independence after the war.

As we know, the Serbian assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the spark that ignited World War I, but nationalism didn't stop there. During the war, different Slavic regions, such as Czechoslovakia, formed legions to fight on the side of the French in return for the promise that if the Allied won the war, France would help countries like Czechoslovakia set up independent states. This shows that nationalism had a direct impact on the fighting of the war itself. After the war, the Allies were instrumental in supporting the creation of independent Slavic nations out of what had been the Austro-Hungarian Empire, also giving parts of Germany to Slavic nations.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Nationalism was both a background and an immediate cause of World War I (1914–1918). In addition, nationalism remained a problem after the war.

In the nineteenth century, nationalism led to the creation of two new nation states in Europe: both Germany and Italy were united for the first time in modern history. Their unification upset the balance of power. Also, German unification was achieved after the Germans defeated the French in the Franco-Prussian War. The new German state took Alsace-Lorraine from France, and the French never accepted the loss of their provinces. Italy sought territory in Austria-Hungary because a group of Italians lived there. Rising nationalism weakened both Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire because they were both multi-ethnic empires. Both of those empires collapsed during World War I.

The immediate cause of the war was the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. This act was carried out by a Serbian nationalist. Austria-Hungary then declared war on Serbia. Russia, which acted as the protector of fellow Slavic peoples, then went to war against Austria-Hungary.

Nationalism influenced President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points. For example, the Fourteen Points included a demand for an independent Poland. Before the war, Poland had been divided between Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary.

World War I did not end problems caused by nationalism. For instance, many Hungarians became residents of Romania, and Hungary did not accept this. Also, Adolph Hitler later used nationalism as the justification for his annexation of both Austria and the Sudetenland.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Nationalism is a very strong loyalty to one’s country. There are several examples of nationalism that are related to World War I. It was a group of Serbian nationalists that carried out the plan to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand. These Serbian nationalists wanted Austria-Hungary to give some land to Serbia where many Serbians were living. After Austria-Hungary refused, the Serbian nationalists killed Franz Ferdinand. This assassination was the spark that led to the start of World War I.

Another example of nationalism is how countries began to build up their armies and navies. Germany wanted to develop an overseas empire. It built up the army and the navy to accomplish this. Other countries also began to build up their military forces. Because intense patriotism and loyalty existed in these countries, the leaders and the people of each country believed that they could defeat any country that they might fight in a war. As a result, they weren’t afraid of fighting because they believed they would win any war that they fought.

These strong feelings of nationalism can also be seen in how each country viewed its rivals. In Great Britain, novelists often stereotyped the Germans as cold and cruel. The Russians were portrayed as uncultured. In Germany, the press showed the British as greedy, expansionist, and obsessed with money. These negative images helped stoke the spirit of superiority and nationalism that existed within many countries.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The scale and severity of World War I alone speaks to the power of nationalism. It was nationalism that caused World War I. Serbian nationalism and resistance to being a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire motivated the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by the Black Hand, creating a ripple effect in the alliance system that in part led to the start of the war.

When the war began, nationalist fervor was high and enthusiasm to defend the nation led to a willingness to fight on an unprecedented scale. It is what allowed leaders of the major European powers to motivate their population to such massive war effort. Without an underpinning of nationalism, the scale of death and destruction witnessed in World War I would have been unlikely.

Even the end of the war, which concluded with the Treaty of Versailles and the formation of League of Nations, marked an unprecedented new dimension of nationalism, and it stoked the desire for national self-determination worldwide.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team